Uh Oh, I Got Attached To An NPC…

This weekend, I’m running another night in my “mini-campaign”. This is a bridging plot between my D&D campaign that ended last year, and the next one I’m hoping to run in the future. The mini-campaign happens when our Sunday DM can’t run his campaign, but people still want to play something.

As is normally the case when developing a storyline, I created some NPCs. Then… I got attached to one of them.

Rule 1: Don’t Get Attached

Getting attached to your NPCs is dangerous, because in a lot of games, the PCs can at any moment turn into murderhobos.

Your only hope is to be worth no XP and pray they don't get angry about it.
Your only hope is to be worth no XP and pray they don’t get angry about it.

For those who don’t play a lot of D&D, a “murderhobo” is a homeless vagrant who wanders the world solving problems by murdering everything in their path, usually collecting loot along the way. This describes a shockingly large number of characters, although admittedly part of that is because the system itself focuses heavily on combat.

That means, lots of NPCs will die. Lots, and lots of NPCs. Sometimes, they’re meant specifically for that purpose (mooks, villains). With the fun ones, you inject some personality and details in them in the hope the PCs find those things out and maybe have a recurring plot dealing with that NPC, to make the final fight more interesting. But, you never know when a lucky crit or a failed save will end things earlier than you planned. So, you never get attached to those ones.

Background and friendly NPCs are a bit different, but even then, you don’t know what will happen to them. Maybe the PCs accidentally (or deliberately, given the evil/selfish nature of our regular Sunday night party) set loose something that wipes a town out, or they cause someone important to get killed. Bad things happen to good NPCs.

The World Shouldn’t React To Your Attachments

Here’s the thing. When the PCs are doing stuff, the world should react to what they do. That’s what makes a fun campaign. But, that should happen if the DM cares about the NPC or not. If they kill most of my other NPCs? I can handle it in a detached way, because they were disposable.

This one, though? If this NPC gets killed, I’ll be pretty unhappy. It’ll take some extra effort to not let that cloud how the game progresses, because I certainly don’t want to punish the PCs just because they killed someone I like as opposed to someone I don’t.

My mistake here is that when I was adding details to this NPC, I inadvertently made a character that I wanted to play as a PC myself. I love what I came up with too much. That was an accident, but you know.

(You might also note that I’m being deliberately vague about this NPC. I don’t want to tip the PCs off as to which one it is, because I don’t want them to react differently in case any of them read this.)

It’s Happened Before

This has happened to me before, in the last campaign. Meet Lylandria, star prodigy and assistant librarian of the Arcane College (sadly I can’t remember where I found this image, because I’d love to credit the artist).

Lylandria
Any similarity to Twilight Sparkle is entirely deliberate.

Lylandria started off the last campaign being a resource for the PCs, because she’s usually in the library and has access to lots of information. When they need to know something about an obscure monster or legend, she can help them find it.  As the game went on, she got involved more often, at one point helping cast a spell for the PCs to resolve a plot line.

Towards the end, the PCs had a door they couldn’t open in the dungeon, and reason to believe she could. So, she came with them. Her mentor gave her an Archmage’s Runestaff so she could defend herself in there.

The PCs then found out there was a battle in this area of the dungeon between three Undead Lords, all trying to wake up and control some ancient evil thing. They ended up siding with a Lich in that battle. When it turned out nobody could conrol the ancient evil thing and it was going to kill everyone, the Lich offered a deal: I’ll help you stop it, if you give me the girl’s staff.

Lylandria, naturally, declined. The PCs argued about it for a while, and looked like they weren’t going to do it. Then the party Rogue simply attacked her, took the staff, and handed it over. Everyone else ended up going along with that, and poor Lylandria has never been the same.

I mean, at least she survived it, but between that and being used to open the door (which helped an evil NPC ascend to godhood), she’s been rather traumatized.

Technically, part of the blame for all those events lies on me as the DM, for playing the Lich and the other evil NPC who set the whole thing up, but the PCs didn’t have to go along with it. It took me a while to forgive them for beating up my poor teenage librarian NPC. 😉

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